Monday, February 28, 2011

Herbal Room Fresheners - Early Spring

In winter I long to throw open the doors and let the fresh air in, but when the temps are still giving us freezing rain, like they will be this week, I have to try something else to refresh my home.

I try these herbal room fresheners:

  1. Hang sachets of aromatic potpourri from the door handles or sunny windows.
  2. Push herb or spice sachets down the sides or back of couch cushions or inside cushion covers.
  3. Place a container of potpourri in the living room or bedroom.  Remove lid and stir potpourri and let scent fill the room.
  4. Keep a small porous pottery bottle filled with a favorite essential oil near a sunny window so that the heat will cause the oil to evaporate.
  5. Dab a little essential oil on a light bulb before turning it on.
  6. Put a couple drops of spicy essential oil on a cotton ball and wipe over your heater vent in winter time for a comforting fragrance.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Loose Herbal Tea - Hot Tea Enjoyment Series #2

On February 8th, I introduced a list of 7 suggestions for introducing or enjoying tea in all its forms both those made from herbs and those made with Camellia sinensis.  

In this post, I will focus on item #2. (If you want to see the original list of 7 see this post: http://backyardpatch.blogspot.com/2011/02/hot-tea-enjoyment.html)

2.  Buy loose tea instead of bags. Loose tea creates a bolder, fuller flavor because it doesn’t constrict the leaves like bags do. 

Suddenly, tea is everywhere.  In grocery stores, tea sections suddenly have swollen to accommodate more brands and varieties. There is more tea out there now than I ever imaged was possible when I first began designing herbal tea blends in the 1990s.
According to tea blogger, David Ramsay, the big action is in loose leaf tea, which generally is of the best quality. Bagged tea has advantages, but it's generally the cheaper bits.  So those who really want to enjoy the flavor of tea or herbal tea need to try loose tea.
"It's like wine. You can buy your $6 bottle versus a very nice French wine. Actually, the tea business is marketing itself that way."
Tea cycles in popularity.  When I first started making herbal tea, you could not buy much if any at the grocery.  What you could find was chamomile tea bags or peppermint tea bags, but no teas with blends of herbs.  It was that reason I began growing and blending herbs all those years ago.
What makes me happy at this time is that my firm belief that there is just something about a good cup of tea, seems to be catching on.  Now instead of just wanting herbal tea for its medicinal properties which was the first wave of interest I saw in my business, people are just want to enjoy tea – Good tea.
We have to overcome years of stereotypes that the only people who drink tea are elderly women of British ancestry.  However, their tea was usually black tea, only sometimes flavored with herbal oils, like Earl Grey.  Now you can find imaginative tea flavors, which appeal to young people, making Tea more popular.
Some people buy for the taste, some for the perceived health benefits. But although tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, it is not quite that popular in the U.S. as yet.
If you didn't come from a tea drinking family, like I did, then the path to sipping it often begins with a sore throat and the belief that herbal teas have special medicinal properties (they do, by the way!)  It is this sampling that results in becoming hooked forever.
Now it is people like Dr. Oz who will mention teas and create a massive desire by the public to try it.  I believe whatever it takes to create converts is a good thing because I want everyone to enjoy tea as much as I do!
Many people argue that Herbal Tea has no favor, but I argue back that you just have not tried the correct blends of Herbal Teas.  So, if you want to try some flavorful as well as soothing loose tea, the Backyard Patch makes more than 22 varieties of caffeine-free herbal teas and another dozen or more herb blended green teas and herb flavored black teas. All of which can be found on our website and in our e-bay and etsy stores.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Herb of the Week - Anise

This week I want to clear up a bit of confusion by focusing on a uniquely flavored plant -- Anise. 

This is not to be confused with Star Anise which is a shrub/tree with hard star-shape fruit. Or the purple Plant referred to as Anise Plant.  But rather Pimpinella anisum a member of the carrot family that grows tall and produces umbels of seeds we call aniseed.

History
According to Pliny the Elder, anise was used as a cure for sleeplessness.  It could also be chewed in the morning with a bit of honey to freshen the breath.  And if mixed with wine was a treatment for asp bites.  In the 1860s American Civil War nurse Maureen Hellstrom used aniseed as an early form of antiseptic.  But was not the most effective as it created sensitivity and raised the levels of toxicity in the blood, resulting in discontinuing its use in this way.
To grow
This annual plant is best grown from seed.  In zones 5 to 7 you can sow seeds directly in the garden in spring once the soil and air are warm.  In colder climates you can start them indoors.  In the south sow the seed in fall.  In all cases plant them ¼ to ½ inch deep and thin the seedlings to 8 inches apart.  They do have a weak stem so closer together is okay too.  They prefer full sun in a light, fast-draining soil that is worked deep and soft.  Kind of a picky plant, in hot humid weather it will die back or bolt and it does not like windy conditions or weed competitors either.
To use
The seeds are the most commonly used part of anise plant.  They are easy to store and are great in the winter steamed with root vegetables like turnips, parsnips and carrots.  They are also a great companion to cabbage.  The natural sweetness makes them a good accompaniment to fruits, in muffins and cookies.  The fresh leaves lend a nice flavor to salads, sauces and soups.  It is used as a breath freshener after meals, which means you can use it well in desserts or after dinner teas.  It is purported to help with bloating, wind and the restoration of equilibrium when taken as tea.

Recipes
Anise - Orange Seafood Skewers
Ingredients

1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon anise seed
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound large scallops
Preparation

Mix orange juice, oil, anise seed, garlic salt, ginger and pepper in small bowl.
Place seafood in large resealable plastic bag and add marinade; turn to coat seafood.

Refrigerate 30 minutes. Remove seafood from bag and discard marinade.
Thread shrimp and scallops onto skewers.

Grill over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes or until shrimp turns pink and scallops are
cooked through. Serve with Honey Ginger Dipping Sauce (recipe follows).
Honey Ginger Dipping Sauce:
Mix 3/4 cup orange juice, 2 tablespoons each honey, soy sauce and
sliced green onions, and 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger.

Anise Seed Biscotti

Biscotti (plural of Italian biscotto, roughly meaning "twice baked") are crisp Italian cookies often containing nuts or flavored with anise.

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 whole eggs
1 egg, separated
1 Tablespoon anise infusion
3 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon milk

Preparation

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. beat in the 2 whole eggs, l egg white and extract until blended. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt. With spatula or wooden spoon, thoroughly blend flour mixture into egg mixture. On floured surface, knead dough one minute or until smooth. Divide dough in half. On greased baking sheets, shape the dough into a log of about 3 inches wide and 15 inches long. Beat reserved yolk with milk, brush over top and sides.

Bake at 375 25-30 minutes or until pick is clean. Cool slightly. On baking sheets, cut loaves diagonally in 3/4" slices. Lay slices on sides and bake 5 minutes turning over once until golden and lightly toasted. Cool. Store tight in airtight containers.

Makes 36

To make the infusion, place 3 Tbls anise seeds in heat resistant c bowl and add 1/2 cup boiling water.  Allow to steep for at least 15 minutes.  More if you have time.  Use the resulting liquid to flavor water or make this recipe.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Laura Ingalls Wilder - Pioneer Theme Gardens

My mother in law lives in a town called Durand, Wisconsin, which is located in Pepin County.  To get to this out of the way town you have to pass through the county seat, also named Peppin.  Peppin, Wisconsin is the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  (They have a plaque and a historical museum there if you ever happen through town on Highway 35.)

One of the things Laura spoke about in her Little House Books was the carrying of herb seeds and cuttings to start a new garden, something she called a “Garden of Used-to-Be.”

Since her birthday is in February (back on Feb. 7) I thought now was the perfect time to share some of the herbs you could include in your own Pioneer Theme garden

A pioneer garden was heavy on the housekeeping and medicinal herbs with a few culinary and tea herbs thrown in, especially dill.  In those days dining with herbs was not nearly as important as having an herbal medicine cabinet and items to help keep the home clean and sanitized.

Here is a plant list for creating a Pioneer garden

Medicinal Herbs – thyme, lavender, yarrow (known then as woundwort), horehound, feverfew, echinacea

Tea Herbs – mint, bee balm, lemon balm, catnip

Culinary herbs – sage, thyme, dill, horseradish, mustard, rosemary

Housekeeping herbs – southernwood, santolina, lavender (repel moths), tansy and penny royal (repel fleas), mint (repel mice), bay (keep weevils out of flours and grains), soapwort (wash fabic), lemon balm (polish furniture), sorrel (polish copper)

Insect repelling herbs - catnip, penny royal, basil

Enjoy herbs in 2011!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Herb of the Week - Dandelion

As the signs of spring begin I thought it was a good time to talk about an herb (please remember herbs are “weeds”) that although beneficial, most people reject as noxious. 
This week’s herb of the week is Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale.)
Dandelion is an herb, although most of us rarely grow it on purpose.  And since it does spring forth uninvited, I recommend wild harvesting all that you need or want from unsprayed yards.  You will be doing your neighbors a favor. 
The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has long been cultivated for food, herbs and tea, but most Americans consider them weeds and collectively spend an enormous amount of time and money to eradicate them. Thought by some to have been brought to America from Europe, at least two sources report that several North American Indian tribes have traditionally used the dandelion for food and medicine. Thus, it seems likely that the dandelion inhabited both the old world and the new.
The first mention of the Dandelion as a medicine is in the works of the Arabian physicians of the tenth and eleventh centuries, who speak of it as a sort of wild Endive, under the name of Taraxcacon. In England, there is allusion to it in the Welsh medicines of the thirteenth century. Dandelion was much valued as a medicine in the times of Gerard and Parkinson, and is still extensively employed
A common plant of the Aster family with single flowering heads full of bright yellow strap-shaped flowers on hollow, unbranched stalks with hairless, large-toothed leaves.  It grows from seed, but produced a tap root that will regenerate into new plants if snapped in half.  Seed spread easily from mature flower heads.
Why care about dandelion?  Besides making a good wine and a not bad salad, it is a useful medicinal herb.
Dandelion Wine
For those who do not know, the wine is made from the flower petals only. Pick the flower heads mid- to late-morning and then wash your hands (they get sticky while picking the flowers), sit in the shade and pull the petals off the flowers. Some people have say they use the flower heads without excessive bitterness, but generally it is better to depetal the flowers avoiding any green which can make the wine bitter. You can freeze the petals until you have gathered enough to make a batch of wine.
Dandelion wine is typically a light wine lacking body. It is light and invigorating and suited perfectly served with tossed salad and baked fish (especially trout). If you ferment with a body-enhancer but shave the sugar, the wine will serve well with pastas, heavier salads, fish, or fowl. Sweetened, it goes well before or after dinner. In any form, when chilled to near iciness it is one of the most refreshing drinks to enjoy a very hot summer afternoon. Nothing else tastes like it.
For a recipe and instructions for making Dandelion Wine, see our Seasonal Recipes above.

 
Cooking with Dandelions
You can use the leaves of a dandelion like any salad green.  Dandelions are great in salads or can be cooked. If they are cooked they don’t need long cooking like the sturdier greens of collards etc. below is a simple cooked recipe for them if you’re looking for an official recipe. Dandelions are a bit bitter, French and Italian cooks and eaters enjoy the bitterness; Americans can sometimes be put off by the bitterness.
Salad of Dandelion and Fresh Goat Cheese
adapted from Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables by E. Schneider
1 bunch dandelion greens, cleaned and dried
about 1/4 pound fresh white goat cheese, cut into ½ inch cubes
1/3 cup or so of chopped red onion
2 T sherry or other light vinegar
2 T walnut or other nut oil, can use a good olive oil if that’s what’s on hand
½ t sugar
1 T. fresh snipped chives
3-4 T toasted and coarsely chopped walnuts
Cut off and discard stem bases. Cut each stalk into 2-inch pieces. Pile on a serving dish; intersperse with cheese. Sprinkle with onion to taste.
In small nonaluminum pan combine vinegar, oil, and sugar; bring to a boil, stirring. Pour over salad and toss lightly. Sprinkle with nuts and serve at once.
Dandelion Greens Sauté
1 lb. dandelion greens
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves garlic
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Wash and slice greens. Blanch in enough water to cover about 1 minute. Drain and sauté in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes, then add the sesame and garlic and sauté for couple minutes more. Add the sesame oil and serve.
Dandelions are great in salads or can be cooked. If they are cooked they don’t need long cooking like the sturdier greens of collards etc. below is a simple cooked recipe for them if you’re looking for an official recipe. Dandelions are a bit bitter, French and Italian cooks and eaters enjoy the bitterness; Americans can sometimes be put off by the bitterness. If your family isn’t sure about it, try one of the richer recipes with bacon, or plenty of olive oil and chili flakes for a vegetarian, even vegan, version. If you’re sure everyone at your table (including you) will NOT enjoy the dandelions, find an Italian or French friend who will enjoy how fresh they are.

Medicinal uses
Dandelion root, ubiquitous in lawns and gardens, is widely-used for cooling and cleansing the liver; it is excellent in herbal formulas for hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver toxicity. It increases the flow of bile and has been used for a variety of liver-associated illnesses. Dandelion has anti-carcinogenic, estrogen-lowering, and blood cholesterol-lowering capabilities. It also helps with headaches, emotional swings before or during menstruation, acne, red, irritated eyes, mood swings.  It is also a strong diuretic. In Chinese medicine dandelion root is taken internally and applied topically for abscesses and nodules. Additionally, it is used to increase lactation and clear liver heat when there are symptoms such as painfully inflamed eyes. Dandelion root tea is also a famous specific for breast cancer but should be taken only in conjunction with advice from a certified herbalist.

Dandelion is a natural diuretic that increases urine production by promoting the excretion of salts and water from the kidney. Dandelion may be used for a wide range of conditions requiring mild diuretic treatment, such as poor digestion, liver disorders, and high blood pressure. One advantage of dandelion is that dandelion is a source of potassium, a nutrient often lost through the use of other natural and synthetic diuretics.

Fresh or dried dandelion herb is also used as a mild appetite stimulant and to improve upset stomach (such as feelings of fullness, flatulence, and constipation). The root of the dandelion plant is believed to have mild laxative effects and is often used to improve digestion. Research suggests that dandelion root may improve the health and function of natural bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Studies have also reported that dandelion root may help improve liver and gallbladder function.

Dandelion may be used in a variety of available forms:

Dried leaf infusion: 1 - 2 teaspoonfuls, 3 times daily.
To make the infusion, pour hot water onto dried leaf and steep for 5 - 10 minutes. Drink as directed.

Dried root decoction: 1/2 - 2 teaspoonfuls, 3 times daily.
To make the decoction, place root into boiling water for 5 - 10 minutes. Strain and drink liquid as directed.

Dandelion Leaf tincture 100 - 150 drops, 3 times daily
Steep 1 part fresh leaves in a solution of 5 parts 30 % alcohol for at least one week.  Strain and store in a refrigerator.

Root tincture 100 - 150 drops, 3 times daily
Steep 1 part cut up root pieces in 2 parts 45 % alcohol for at least 1 week.  Strain and store in refrigerator.

As a caution, one should never self-medicate and always ask a professional for advice.  Please also be aware that one should avoid Dandelion if taking antibiotics or Lithium.

The final way to enjoy rather than be annoyed by dandelions is just to read Dandelion Wine the book by Ray Bradbury.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Growing herbs from SEED - Do's, Don'ts and Plants

I believe the reason winter doesn’t bother me much is I spend most of it thinking about spring. It's the time I order seeds and think about what I will grow in my home garden.  Some herbs grow well from seed, others should be avoided.  Here is my list of best and worst herbs to grow from seed.
Best Herbs Grown from Seed:
(It I say "resents transplanting," then you should try to sow them in place rather than indoors.)
BASIL, SWEET (Ocimum basilicum) Both green and 'Dark Opal' basil are attractive plants for the garden. I prefer to plant the seed where it is to grow directly to -the garden in mid-May. Germination usually occurs in 7 to 10 days. Basil is not difficult to transplant. Grows to 18 inches; space 12 inches between plants. 'Dark Opal' has beautiful deep red foliage and lovely pink flowers and is excellent to use along a walk or as a solid bed for decoration in the garden. Basil is very good to use to flavor tomato juice and tomato pastes.

BORAGE (Borago officinalis) This has pinkish blossoms which turn blue like the perennial pulmonaria. It is an annual and should be planted directly to the garden in early May in the North. Growing to 2 feet it should be spaced 10 inches apart. Germinates in 7 -to 10 days. Resents transplanting except when quite small. It is excellent used in tossed salad to add a most elusive flavor.

CHERVIL (Anthriscus cerefolium) Although this plant will germinate in the fall and live over the winter I would advise the inexperienced gardener to grow it as an annual, sowing the seed to the garden in mid-May (in this area). Grows to 2 feet and should be spaced 8 inches apart. Grows quickly and is mature in 6 weeks. Resents transplanting. Fresh leaves can be frozen in small packets after washing carefully. Excellent to flavor egg dishes.

CHIVES (Allium scboenoprasum) This is a perennial plant growing from bulblets. They are really very easy to grow from seed. Mine, started under the fluorescent lights as well as in the greenhouse in the spring germinated in 10 days. The tiny little plants look like fragile spears of grass. When transplanted they wilt slightly. Even during a continued drought they grow very well. Mature plants grow to 12, inches; space 6 inches apart. They are very hardy even in cold locations. Flowers are pretty enough so that chives can be grown as a border or in the rock garden. Fine in salads, egg dishes and sauces of all kinds. Potted up, chives will grow on a sunny windowsill in winter.

DILL (Anethum graveolens) This is an easily grown annual with feathery foliage. Blossoms are tiny and pale yellow. Grows to 21/2 feet in my garden and germinates in 7 to 10 days planted at the same time as tender vegetables. Resents transplanting. May be spaced as close as 4 inches apart. Self-sows readily. Fine for use in pickling and to flavor meats.

LAVENDER (Lavandula). I have had excellent success with germinating seeds of lavender giving a four-week pre-chilling period in the coldframe before bringing into the greenhouse with germination in 14 days. This year sown under the lights the seeds germinated in 15 days with no pre-chilling period. This is a hardy perennial with gray foliage and spikes of fragrant lavender flowers, which when dried are used to perfume the linen chest and for sachets. Dry easily when hung free in a dry garage or attic.

MARJORAM, SWEET (Majorana hortensis) This is a perennial in frost-free sections of the South but is grown as a hardy annual in the North. Sow seed indoors with germination in 7 to 10 days. Grows to 12 inches; space 6 inches apart. Plants may be potted up and grown in the greenhouse or sunny window over -the winter. Adds a delicate flavor to lamb, fish, salads and soups.

MINT (Mentha spicata) This mint is very easy to grow. It is a hardy perennial and spreads by root. Sown indoors seed germinates in 10 to 15 days. It grows to 2 feet and is rather sprawling, in habit. Space 12 inches apart. Is at its best in good rich soil. Fine to use for mint jelly and in mint juleps, lemonade and other fruit drinks.

SAGE (Salvia officinalis) This is a hardy perennial in our location and is often grown in gardens for its pretty foliage and spikes of bluish flowers. Seed sown indoors germinates in 14 days. Grows to 2 feet and should be spaced 12 inches apart. Can be sown outdoors in May with germination in 21 to 30 days. Fine herb for dressings for chicken, turkey, pork and for flavoring sausages.

SAVORY, SUMMER (Satureja bortensis) This is an easily grown annual being best planted in mid-May in our location directly to the garden where it is to grow with germination in 7 to 10 days. Grows to 12 inches tall; space 5 or 6 inches apart. Good to flavor fish dishes, beans and soups.

THYME (Thymus vulgaris) This is a hardy perennial being of somewhat shrubby growth. Leaves are cut for drying before the blossoms are open. It is easily grown from seed sown indoors with germination in 21 to 30 days. Grows slowly when young. Grows to 12. inches; space 8 inches apart. It needs rich soil. Thyme is used for flavoring soups and poultry dressing.

Worst Herbs from seed:
DON’T plant French tarragon and specific mint cultivars from seed. According to Nancy Bubel, author of The New Seed-Starts Handbook (Rodale Press, 1988), French tarragon doesn’t provide viable seeds and specific mint cultivars hybridize readily and, more often than not, fail to come true to the seeds listed in catalogs.
PARSLEY - Parsley seed is best started indoors and then planted in the herb garden. Although it is very slow to germinate, don't give up; Don't be discouraged!

Growing Tips:
Once you’ve purchased your seeds, pay attention to the information on the seed packet. But here are universal rules for successful seed starting:
DO plant in seed starting mix, not natural soil. Before your seeds sprout, DO provide seeds with the warmth they need by setting them on a warm furnace or a store-bought heat mat.
DON’T just place seeds next to a window. Place seedlings on a table directly underneath a shop light. These lights are usually enough to provide sturdy, stocky seedling growth.
DON’T use fancy “grow lights.” They are designed to help plants flower indoors, not sprout seedlings. Instead, use a cool white fluorescent tube light to give your seedlings an approximation of the sun they need, which is a lot.  Find them at any hardware store
DO keep seedlings close to the light—they should be almost touching the tubes. Adjust the distance between your herbs and the light. When seeds have to stretch for light, they become leggy and susceptible to garden damage.
DO keep seed lights on at least 16 hours a day
DO water seeds moderately. Steer clear of watering too much or too little
DO cover unsprouted seedling trays with clear plastic to regulate moisture levels
Nurturing herbs from seeds offers many benefits to the herb gardener: You get a head start in the garden; you can minimize the chance of introducing soil-borne diseases to your garden; you’ll save money; and you may even have fun along the way. So, if you have the time and the patience to start herbs from seed, gather your favorite seed catalogs and start plotting.
If you are not sure which seed catalogs to choose we’ve written a blog on seed and plant nurseries to get you started.  It ran last week – Here is the link: http://backyardpatch.blogspot.com/2011/01/herb-garden-planning-seed-catalogs.html

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Mousse

Today is Valentine’s Day!  My husband and I exchange hand-made (or hand computer made cards) along with a small gift. 

This year it has been all about the chocolate.  Yesterday he took me to Godiva Chocolates and I made my own box.  For him I bought Chocolate hand-made by Brian ____.

I was planning to make his chocolate gift this year, but with the blizzard throwing off my schedule I ran out of time.  However, I did find a couple of great recipes for herb-infused chocolate-related items that I felt I should share with you since I did not (yet) share them with him.  the first I put up as the Recipe of the Month on my website, a Thyme Shortbread Cookie.  the second is below, a nice showy dessert of basil infused white chocolate with berry sauce.  Both are perfect to demonstrate your love!

Basil Mousse & Strawberry Parfait

Strawberry sauce
8 oz. fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 tsp. finely grated orange zest
4 to 5 Tbls. Confectioners sugar, or to taste

White Chocolate basil mousse
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, stems removed coarsely chopped
3 cups heavy cream, divided
5 tsp. cold water
1 tsp. powdered unflavored gelatin
4 large egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 oz. white chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. finely grated orange zest
3 Tbls. Confectioner’s sugar

Garnish (optional)
Strawberry quarters
Small fresh basil leaves

Make sauce buy combining berries, zest and 2 to 3 Tbls confectioners’ sugar in a food processor.  Process until smooth.  Add more sugar to taste.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Make mousse.  Combine basil, 2 cups cream in saucepan.  Bring to scalding over medium heat.  Turn off heat and steep about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile pour water into top of double boiler.  Sprinkle gelatin over water.  Let sit 5 to 10 minutes until gelatin has completely absorbed water.  Melt over low heat on top of double boiler, then turn off heat.

Whisk yolks and sugar together.  Whisk in flour.  Strain cream mixture into yolk mixture pressing excess fluid from leaves and whisk to combine.  Add white chocolate.  Pour into clean sauce pan and cook over medium heat, stirring slowly and constantly in a figure 8 pattern until chocolate has melted and mixture just comes to a boil.  Note: a whisk can help break up lumps that naturally form in the 100% cream sauce.  Do not whisk too strongly or mixture will break. 

Strain chocolate mixture into a large bowl.  Immediately whisk in warm gelatin, grated orange zest and vanilla extract.  Cover surface flush with plastic wrap and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

Combine 1 cup cream and 3 Tbls. confectioners’ sugar with electric mixer.  Whip cream to soft peaks.  Once chocolate mixture has cooled, but not set, gently fold into whipped cream.

To assemble parfait.  Pour mousse into large container with spout.  Pour strawberry sauce into another container with a spout.  Fill 5- 8 to 10 oz. wine or parfait glasses halfway with mousse.  Refrigerate until partially set, about 30 minutes.  Pour 2 to 3 Tbls. of sauce on top of each dessert.  Allow sauce to flow to sides of glass.  Top off with remaining mousse, cover with plastic wrap and chill until completely set (about 6 hours.)  Garnish with strawberries and basil leaf.

Enjoy and Happy Valentine’s Day – Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh

Friday, February 11, 2011

Old Blog Round-up - Garden Planning

Before I moved my blog here to Blogspot, I had one linked to my website which no one ever saw.  Some of the items I wrote were rather informative.  Since few people got to enjoy them, I thought I would share the links to those garden planning posts in hopes of sharing a bit more than I have time to write at present. Please check out those that might help your garden planning this winter!
In January 2009 I wrote on Planning a Garden and Picking the Plants.  This link with take you to several different posts that detail how to choose the plants you put into your garden.

I’ve recently spoken about seed catalogs, but a post from February 26, 2009 details how to choose what is right for your garden space.

If your Garden Planning includes a theme garden, then here is some information on an Herbal Tea Garden you might like.  The information was so long, I took two days to share it:

Also on a garden planning theme I wrote about incorporating herbs into a non-herb gardens or a general landscape plan on March 9 & 10, 2009

I love scented geraniums which was obvious when I looked back at my blog were I wrote about them several times.  Here are some informative posts on working them into your garden plan.

This post talks about a new Lemon–scented Geranium cultivar from Richters

Planning a garden that you can enjoy even in the winter is a special interest of mine.  I did a series of blogs detailing plants to use that create texture and visual interest even when your garden is knee deep in snow (like mine is right now!)  These blogs on "Winter Interest" were posted in January and February 2010.  Here are the links to both months (scroll to the bottom of January to begin):

It took two months of posts to share what I knew about container gardening with herbs and I still don’t think I have shared it all.
I hope that you enjoy these links.  I have just finished making some herb flavored wine and as soon as I get the photos formatted I will share the steps for making it and also some recipes for using them!!
Thank you and Happy Gardening! 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Herb of the Week - Caraway

Due to weather, internet and other constraints the Herb of the Week has been missing for a bit, but I am back on schedule with this week's post.

The herb of the week this week is: Caraway (Carum carvi)

Not often considered when planning an herb garden, this is a great cooking staple one should often consider and since you can grow it up to Zone 3 in the north, there is no excuse not to. As you will see below it is also the perfect herb to mention just before Valentine’s Day!


History


The caraway plant is native to S.E. Europe and is nowadays cultivated in central and northern Europe and in some areas of North Africa. Holland is the main producer of the caraway plant; however Germany is the biggest consumer of caraway seeds.

The caraway plant (Carum carvi) is a member of the parsley family. It is best known for its tiny highly flavored seeds, which are most commonly recognized as the flavor in rye bread.

Extremely popular in central and northern European cuisines in particular, it has been said that caraway seeds are the oldest and longest used spice in Europe, with records dating back to Thebes, the ancient capital of Egypt, in 1552 BC.  Egyptians buried their dead with caraway, as this was thought to protect them against evil spirits and young Greek women used to rub the essential oil obtained from the seeds into their skin to promote a glowing and healthy-looking skin.



One of the most popular folk stories that still holds true today is that caraway has powers that stop things or people from going astray or being stolen. For this reason, caraway was often made into a love potion, to stop lovers from being unfaithful or from being stolen away. Farmers often gave their animals and fowl caraway seeds in their food to stop them from wandering off or getting lost. And even today, some bird keepers keep a piece of caraway dough in their barns or cages for the same reason.

To Grow

Caraway is a biennial, meaning it produces seed the second year.  It is best grown from seed as it does not tolerate transplanting.  It prefers full sun, deep fertile and well-drained soil.  The flowers are delicate white on multi-umbels that resemble Queen Anne’s Lace.  The plant has a tap root and should be sown in a place it is expected to remain forever, because like Horseradish.  It will spring forth from the root again and again, even if you think you dug it out.  The plant can grow as tall as 24 inches in height with feathery fern-like foliage.  The flowers and seeds appear the second year.

To Use

The feathery leaves can be used fresh in salads, stews and vegetable stir-fry.  The seeds are the most commonly used part of the plant and should be harvested from the plant before they fall to the ground.  They ripen about a month after the flowers are finished so mark a calendar to remind you to harvest on time.  Just clip off the seed heads and place in a paper bag to finish ripening.  Once ripe they should fall freely from the stems.  The root is also edible and can be dug after the second year.  It can be peeled and cooked like a parsnip or carrot.

Dishes made with cauliflower, carrots and parsnips are ideal base for caraway.  It is not just for rye bread.  The seed is thought to diminish the odor caused by cooking cabbage as well as imparting its subtle flavor.  The flavor changes with prolonged cooking, so it is best to add it during the last 10 to 15 minutes.

Caraway seed has been used medicinally to help settle an upset stomach.  Crush and steep a tiny amount in boiling water or warm milk.  You’ll want to crush the seeds to release the beneficial compounds.

Recipes

Caraway Coleslaw

1/2 cup nonfat Greek-style yogurt, or 2/3 cup regular plain nonfat yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 (16-ounce) bag shredded coleslaw mix
2 teaspoons caraway seeds

Directions
If using regular yogurt, place it in a strainer lined with a paper towel and set the strainer over a bowl. Let the yogurt drain and thicken for 20 minutes.

In a large bowl whisk together the Greek or stained yogurt, mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. Add coleslaw mix and caraway seeds and toss to coat.


Irish Soda Bread 
Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day here is a perfect one to try, that will use caraway!

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons butter, softened
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup raisins
2 teaspoons caraway seeds

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350º F.
Line baking sheet with parchment paper and coat with cooking vegetable spray.
In a bowl, stir together flour, salt, soda, sugar, baking powder, raisins, and caraway seeds.
In a separate bowl beat together buttermilk, eggs and butter.


Stir together dry and moist ingredients. Shape into a 6-inch mound on the baking sheet. If the mixture is too moist to maintain shape, add a little flour. Cut a large X into the top of the dough with a sharp knife. Bake 40 to 45 minutes. Cool slightly.

Tip: Irish Soda Bread is best when eaten the day it is made.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hot Tea Enjoyment

January was Hot Tea Month, and that got me to thinking that I have always loved tea, in fact it was why I started to grow herbs, because I love tea flavored with herbs.  Now Herb Tea is technically not tea at all, but rather an tisane made by steeping herbs, but since we drink it much the same way, I will group it together with regular tea which can include white, green or black all of which come from the plant Camellia sinensis.
As a purveyor of herbal and herb-infused green and black teas, I have some tips to offer for enjoying tea, both for those who have drunk tea for years, and those who are just beginning to enjoy its nuances:

 7 Tea Enjoyment Suggestions



Backyard Patch Teatime Herbal Tea

 1. Try a new type of tea. There are many variations beyond traditional black or green tea, including caffeine-free herbal blends (tisanes) or rooibos from South Africa.

2. Buy loose tea instead of bags. Loose tea creates a bolder, fuller flavor because it doesn’t constrict the leaves like bags do.

I am going to do posts on each of these 7 suggestions with information or recipes so that you can begin to enjoy tea, especially those infused with the flavor of herbs.
3. Learn how to brew the best tea. It’s not hard, but there are variations in time, temperature, and brewing equipment that can make a big difference in the quality of tea.

4. Understand how to store tea. Use opaque food-safe containers with a sealed lid to avoid exposure to light, heat, moisture, and air. (No glass containers)

5. Experiment with tea in other drinks, such as lattes, cider, cocoa or as Chai.  Tea can also be used as an ingredient in recipes from desserts to main dishes.

6. Host a tea tasting with friends. Try several different flavors and compare notes. Or hold an actual tea and serve scones and treats with your tea selections.

7. Put brewed tea leaves to good use. Sprinkle them on plants, add to a compost pile or cook with them!

Most people have heard that drinking tea (particularly green tea) is good for you, but they don’t do it because they have memories of less-than-pleasant tea experiences. However, once someone begins to explore all of the options out there, one can find what works for them in flavor, richness and strength.
Until then, I recommend you take advantage of suggestion number one and try a new tea.   The Backyard Patch offers caffeine-free herbal teas, herb flavored black teas and herb blended green teas, as well as Chai blends that combine tea, herbs and spices.
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